In all likelihood, it was the form of Buddhism labelled ‘Esoteric Buddhism’ that had the greatest geographical spread of any form of Buddhism. It left its imprint not only on its native India, but far beyond, on Southeast Asia, Central Asia, including Tibet and Mongolia, as well as the East Asian countries China, Korea and Japan. Not only has Esoteric Buddhism contributed substantially to the development of Buddhism in many cultures, but it also facilitated the transmission of religious art and material culture, science and technology. This volume, the result of an international collaboration of forty scholars, provides a comprehensive resource on Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in their Chinese, Korean, and Japanese contexts from the first few centuries of the common era right up to the present.
Just opening it at random, one instantly sees the scope and depth of this great resource. For example, on page 47 there is a reference to a text called Attaining Perfection while Dreaming, and on page 314 comes a chapter After Amoghavajra: Esoteric Buddhism in the late Tang, followed by (on page 575) the Early Esoteric Buddhism in Korea. Other sections include a look at the Buddhist history of Japan, China and Korea, and a wide range of information on Buddhist texts and their translators. It is a real treasure trove.
Some scholars use esoteric Buddhism and tantra as virtually interchangeable, generic terms covering distinctive developments all across Buddhist Asia from the third or fourth centuries C.E. onward.
For some the term esoteric Buddhism refers to a stream developing in the Mahayana prior to and distinct from the tantras. In this deﬁnition the tantras developed in the eighth century and beyond and are distinctively infused with imagery and practices-often seen as antinomian-associated with the rise of the siddha movement.
For others, esoteric Buddhism, while synonymous with Buddhist tantra, dates to no earlier than the sixth century when previously developed elements including mantra, mandala, homa, etc., come together in a comprehensive system accessed through abhiseka and guarded with secrecy.
A fourth position rejects ‘tantra’ as a useful category in pre-modern East Asia and argues that esoteric Buddhism in China was understood not as a coherent movement, school, or sect, but as a new technological extension of the Mahayana.
Volumes like this reveal just how few Buddhist texts and writings have been translated into English compared with what there is available out there. This is highly recommended as a great reference work.
Charles D. Orzech, Ph.D. (1986) in Divinity, University of Chicago, is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. He has published extensively on Esoteric Buddhism in China and is the author of Politics and Transcendent Wisdom (Penn State Press, 1998).
Henrik H. Sørensen, Ph.D (1988) University of Copenhagen, has written widely on Chan and Son, on Asian art, and on Esoteric Buddhism in China and Korea. He has directed the Seminar for Buddhist Studies (Copenhagen) and edited its publication series.
Richard K. Payne, Ph.D. (1985) in the History and Phenomenology of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, is Dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley. He also trained at Mt. Kōya and has written and edited several volumes including Tantric Buddhism in East Asia (Wisdom, 2005).
Contributors include: Barbara Ambrose, Anna Andreeva, Sarah Aptilon, Ian Astley, Clemente Beghi, Heather Blair, William Bodiford, Chen Jinhua, Paul Copp, Ronald M. Davidson, Lucia Dolce, Athanasios Drakakis, Donald Drummond, Ruth Dunnell, Jay Ford, David Gardiner, Rolf Giebel, Robert M. Gimello, David Gray, Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis, Nobumi Iyanaga, George Keyworth, Martin Lehnert, Hun Y. Lye, Shinya Mano, Richard M. McBride, Laura Meeks, Regan Murphy, Charles D. Orzech, Richard K. Payne, Klaus Pinte, Fabio Rambelli, Thierry Robouam, James Robson, Brian Ruppert, Neil Schmid, Gaynor Sekimori, Shen Weirong, Henrik H. Sørensen, Mark Unno, Pamela Winfield
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